The Australian Antarctic Territory

Independent report to the Australian Government Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Beeton RJS (Bob), Buckley Kristal I, Jones Gary J, Morgan Denise, Reichelt Russell E, Trewin Dennis
(2006 Australian State of the Environment Committee), 2006

10. The Australian Antarctic Territory

In this section

The Australian Antarctic Territory (AAT) is ‘that part of the territory in the Antarctic seas that comprises all the islands and territories, other than Adélie Land, situated south of the 60th degree south latitude and lying between the 160th degree east longitude and the 45th degree east longitude’. This includes Australia’s sub-Antarctic Territory of Heard Island and the McDonald Islands, and Macquarie Island.

Antarctica and the surrounding Southern Ocean are important to Australia because of their historic associations, influence on regional and global climate processes, and contribution to biodiversity, as well as the economic value of the Southern Ocean fisheries. Data from long-term monitoring provide a platform for better understanding the functioning of global systems, and predicting climate and other atmospheric trends. Antarctica and its surrounding oceans are dominated and shaped by the global climate.

Five main areas of local human activity have the potential to impact adversely on the Antarctic environment, although the intensity of impact is low. These are the conduct of scientific research, logistic support operations, tourism, construction of buildings and infrastructure, and commercial harvesting of living resources. Australia has nine permanent scientific stations; an extremely low density when considered in the context of the almost 6 million square kilometres of the Australian Antarctic Territory (AAT). Nevertheless, there is a local environmental impact of the day to day operation of the stations. Tourist visits  to the Australian sub-Antarctic islands and the AAT have not increased, in contrast with an increase in visitors of 10 per cent a year to other parts of Antarctica outside Australia’s jurisdiction.

A variety of marine and terrestrial species and ecosystems are found in the Territory, and their vulnerability to human pressures is not fully known. Some species have been exploited over the last 200 years, and a number of those have not yet recovered. There are also difficult practical challenges in the long-term conservation of historic sites and objects. Despite these difficulties, scientists need to find ways of conducting research and sharing and aggregating data that will give a better overall picture of the state of the Antarctic environment.